Market Your Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Skills By MaryAnn Feusner, BHA Senior Communication Arts, Anthropology & Religion, Spring 2002
As an undergraduate you probably have had to explain what it is you study or "what exactly your major is" often to people - your friends, parents, classmates, teachers. All that practice has been preparing you for marketing yourself and your skills after college.
Now you need to learn how to make the traditional tools (resume or curriculum vitae, cover letter or application, interview, networking, portfolio) work for you in showing the skills you have learned through your studies and experiences.
Everyone develops skills which are transferable to job situations. As an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary student, you have additional skills that valuable to employers.
Marketable Traits and Skills
Through your interdisciplinary education, you have studied several disciplines, building detailed knowledge in several areas and integrating it into new means of reaching goals or solving problems. You practiced multidisciplinary thinking, using multiple perspectives to create new ideas and solutions.
You have different ways of looking at problems and finding solutions. You probably have good group skills. These skills and others listed below make you stand out as a job candidate due to your unique education.
Focused - with passionate connection to your work
Creative, innovative thinker
Critical and Analytical Thinking Skills:
Analyzing problems in a way that considers unusual alternatives ("thinking outside the box")
Making connections between things that discipline-oriented people would not see
Formulating different questions due to broader perspectives, curiosity, and ability to make connections
Synthesizing multiple perspectives and forms of knowledge (disciplines)
Thinking broadly, then focusing more narrowly to study something or solve a problem
Integrating methods from different disciplines or transferring skills from one discipline to apply to another
Structuring unstructured problems - bringing order out of chaos
Giving broader context to decision-making and problem-solving
Choosing the appropriate method (or hybrid of methods) to solve problem
Working with others to research, develop plans, and implement solutions
Brainstorming - recognizing that there is no one method or perspective that is superior or all-encompassing
Translating/mediating between disciplines
Negotiating, persuading others
Facilitating group discussion
Conveying ideas concisely (like your major)
Expressing what one believes in
Relating to people with different backgrounds than you (due to your experience of a diversity of perspectives and methods)
Combining skills to reach people with different learning styles (auditory, visual, kinesthetic)
Know Yourself and Your Audience
Review your experiences and identify examples of those skills. This is essential for you to be able to articulate specifically and concretely how these inter- and multi-disciplinary skills have been an asset. Analyze what you learned, what you experienced. When did your interdisciplinary skills shine? For example: When working on a project with designers and engineers, you lead the group discussion of possible solutions because your understanding of art and physics enabled you to made connections between the engineer's building concerns and the designer's aesthetic ideas.
Consider the environment you want to work in and the job you want to do. Think about what you enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) about interdisciplinary group work or multidisciplinary discussions. If those experiences were really important to you, make that part of your criteria for what job or company culture you would most enjoy. Which interdisciplinary skills would you like to use in a work setting?
Research your field. Learn about the lifestyles of people working in the field, the expectations and duties of the jobs in the industry, and the typical career path people take. Also, research specific companies and jobs at those companies. Certain jobs, fields, or companies will be more interested in certain aspects of your skills than others. As you research a job, company, or field, look for values they have that match with inter- and multidisciplinary skills. Some company cultures or occupational fields will be more supportive of interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary collaborations; in fact, in some fields and companies, it is the norm.
Identify skills the job/field/company values by analyzing your research findings. Every job uses a particular set of skills. What values did you see in that job, company, or field that matched with interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary skills? These are the skills you want to emphasize in your resume, cover letter, portfolio, etc.
Review your experiences again. Identify situations where you exhibited the skills that company or organization is seeking. Note the skills and qualities you have that would make you a successful employee and a good fit with their culture. Remember that all experiences are valid - whether volunteer work, paid work, internships, or class projects. Each experience illustrates what you can do. Make note of your experiences or if you have completed projects that relate to the job.
Market Your Skills to Your Audience
After identifying which skills are appropriate, you must make clear to the potential employer that you have the skills they want in an employee.
Through your resume, cover letter, or in interviews or talking with networking contacts, you want to highlight the skills you have that make you a great candidate. These three marketing concepts are key! All other ideas listed below are further examples of how to apply these ideas in your job search.
Highlight your skills. Find places in your resume and cover letter to point out those skills that the employer is seeking. Point out instances where you used your mix of skills on your resume - whether paid or volunteer positions. Use action words [link to resume page] to describe tasks for a given job on your resume.
Show how your interdisciplinary skills "improved the bottom line." Cite specific examples in a resume of how your combination of thinking improved a product, project, or situation. For example: Integrating psychology and architecture, you increased attendance at an event by organizing the space in a way people found welcoming.
Use concrete examples to illustrate an inter- or multidisciplinary skill. In your cover letter, describe a specific instance where you demonstrated that skill. For example, "When working on a multimedia presentation for a religious organization, my interest in different viewpoints encouraged my client to share more about life in her culture. I used this information to create a presentation using language and visual themes that would be meaningful to the organization's audience."
Break down your resume by types of experience. For example, separate into "design experience," "writing experience," "event planning experience," or "management experience." This allows you to group jobs by the skills you use - highlight the talents and skills that will help you succeed on that job in that company.
List related projects you have completed. Describe a class project where you used your interdisciplinary skills or worked as an interdisciplinary team. Put these projects in a separate section on your resume.
Include a "highlights" section at the top of your resume, drawing attention to the most outstanding experiences or qualities that you want the employer to know about. Bullet-point achievements, qualities, or experiences that are most note-worthy and relative to the job for which you are applying.
List work you have exhibited. Make an "exhibition" section on your resume. Any performances or exhibits in galleries (the Frame, etc.) or in public can be listed. For example, BHA and BSA students can list work exhibited in Kaleidoscope, their programs' yearly exhibition of work.
Assemble a portfolio and bring it to interviews. Even if you are not an artist, a portfolio that displays your interdisciplinary work (photos of performances or exhibited work, papers or reports, etc.) will enable you to show work you produced with your interdisciplinary skills.
Prepare examples of situations when you used inter- and multidisciplinary (as well as other) skills so you will be prepared to discuss them during interviews.
Job search ideas
Seek out jobs that need a mix of talents. Sometimes smaller companies or organizations will have "hybrid" positions to save the cost of employing more people. Also, some companies or organizations (large and small) break down tasks in less-traditional ways to create such positions. Innovative companies and organizations often have a more interdisciplinary environment, and welcome interdisciplinary thinkers.
Use networking. Practice explaining to people what you do. Making a personal connection allows them to better understand what you can contribute. Network with others who are interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary. Talk to alumni who graduated from your degree program or in your field (or a related one). Ask them how they found out about jobs, and what they did to market themselves. Sometimes network contacts will know about job openings of which you weren't aware. They may offer to give you a recommendation, or they may refer you to someone else who may be able to help you learn more about a field or job opening.
Send samples of your work with your resume and cover letter. In some cases, employers will ask for writing samples or a portfolio. Send pieces that display your interdisciplinary skills. If you can, send a copy rather than your original work. (Talk to your career counselor for more information about portfolios and writing samples.)
Choose references that can state that you effectively used those inter- and multidisciplinary skills that you are focusing on marketing. People who will be able to articulate those skills and abilities of yours are best.
Get Out There!
You now have a great start on marketing your unique talents. All the work you've already done advocating your course of study to faculty and students will roll right into advocating yourself in the job market. Your job search is one more way to exercise your creativity - think of other ideas beyond the ones mentioned here! As Carnegie Mellon alum Becca Albrecht says, "Don't rule anything out - if you can imagine a job out there, it either exists or you can create it." Don't forget to see your career counselor for further help about any part of the job search process.
So go on and show them how amazing you are!
Sources and Additional Information:
Look at the Transferable Skills Career Brief for more information about marketing valuable skills you may have overlooked.